In November, 1861, occurred an incident which for a time threatened a very grave international complication, a complication that would, if unwisely handled, have determined the fate of the Republic. Early in the year, the Confederate government had sent certain representatives across the Atlantic to do what might be practicable to enlist the sympathies of European governments, or of individuals in these governments, to make a market for the Confederate cotton bonds, to arrange for the purchase of supplies for the army and navy, and to secure the circulation of documents presenting the case of the South. Mr. Yancey of Mississippi was the best-known of this first group of emissaries. With him was associated Judge Mann of Virginia and it was Mann who in November, 1861, was in charge of the London office of the Confederacy. In this month, Mr. Davis appointed as successor to Mann, Mr. Mason of Virginia, to whom was given a more formal authorisation of action. At the same time, Judge Slidell of Louisiana was appointed as the representative to France. Mason and Slidell made their way to Jamaica and sailed from Jamaica to Liverpool in the British mail steamer Trent. Captain Charles Wilkes, in the United States frigate San Jacinto, had been watching the West Indies waters with reference to blockade runners and to Wilkes came knowledge of the voyage of the two emissaries. Wilkes took the responsibility of stopping the Trent when she was a hundred miles or more out of Kingston and of taking from her as prisoners the two commissioners. The commissioners were brought to Boston and were there kept under arrest awaiting the decision from Washington as to their status. This stopping on the high seas of a British steamer brought out a great flood of indignation in Great Britain. It gave to Palmerston and Russell, who were at that time in charge of the government, the opportunity for which they had been looking to place on the side of the Confederacy the weight of the influence of Great Britain. It strengthened the hopes of Louis Napoleon for carrying out, in conjunction with Great Britain, a scheme that he had formulated under which France was to secure a western empire in Mexico, leaving England to do what she might find convenient in the adjustment of the affairs of the so-called United States.
During the early part of 1862, Lincoln is giving renewed thought to the great problem of emancipation. He becomes more and more convinced that the success of the War calls for definite action on the part of the administration in the matter of slavery. He was, as before pointed out, anxious, not only as a matter of justice to loyal citizens, but on the ground of the importance of retaining for the national cause the support of the Border States, to act in such manner that the loyal citizens of these States should be exposed to a minimum loss and to the smallest possible risk of disaffection. In July, 1862, Lincoln formulated a proposition for compensated emancipation. It was his idea that the nation should make payment of an appraised value in freeing the slaves that were in the ownership of citizens who had remained loyal to the government. It was his belief that the funds required would be more than offset by the result in furthering the progress of the War. The daily expenditure of the government was at the time averaging about a million and a half dollars a day, and in 1864 it reached two million dollars a day. If the War could be shortened a few months, a sufficient amount of money would be saved to offset a very substantial payment to loyal citizens for the property rights in their slaves.
We may recall that during the entire four years of War, Lincoln, the commander-in-chief, was always in the rear. Difficult as was the task of the men who led columns into action, of the generals in the field who had the immediate responsibility for the direction of those columns and of the fighting line, it was in no way to be compared with the pressure and sadness of the burden of the man who stood back of all the lines, and to whom came all the discouragements, the complaints, the growls, the criticisms, the requisitions or demands for resources that were not available, the reports of disasters, sometimes exaggerated and sometimes unduly smoothed over, the futile suggestions, the conflicting counsels, the indignant protests, the absurd schemes, the self-seeking applications, that poured into the White House from all points of the field of action and from all parts of the Border States and of the North. The man who during four years could stand that kind of battering and pressure and who, instead of having his hopefulness crushed out of him, instead of losing heart or power of direction or the full control of his responsibilities, steadily developed in patience, in strength, in width of nature, and in the wisdom of experience, so that he was able not only to keep heart firm and mind clear but to give to the soldiers in the front and to the nation behind the soldiers the influence of his great heart and clear mind and of his firm purpose, that man had within him the nature of the hero. Selected in time of need to bear the burdens of the nation, he was able so to fulfil his responsibilities that he takes place in the world's history as a leader of men.
But in a larger sense, we cannot dedicate, we cannot consecrate, we cannot hallow this ground. The brave men, living and dead who struggled here have consecrated it far above our poor power to add or detract. The world will little note nor long remember what we say here, but it can never forget what they did here. It is for us the living rather to be dedicated here to the unfinished work which they who fought here have thus far so nobly advanced. It is rather for us to be here dedicated to the great task remaining before usâ€”that from these honored dead we take increased devotion to that cause for which they gave the last full measure of devotionâ€”that we here highly resolve that these dead shall not have died in vain, that this nation under God shall have a new birth of freedom, and that government of the people, by the people, for the people shall not perish from the earth.